Review: Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent trade paperback (DC Comics)

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

I am going to miss Brian Michael Bendis on the Superman titles. I’m not saying Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent isn’t a little strange, and to be sure there’s a creative choice or two here I don’t agree with. But as with Superman Vol. 4: Mythological, Bendis' final volume on that title, I come away once again with the feeling of Bendis having great affection for this character, and moreover, for his extended family, something that’s been a question among some quarters during Bendis' run. Solely what this book sets its primary sights on, not one but two Superboys, ought tell you most of what you need to know about Bendis and what he sees as the heart of the Super-books.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’s called “The House of Kent” but this book might as well be “A Tale of Two Superboys.” Before Action Comics Vol. 5 gets down to the last hurrah of Metropolis' Invisible Mafia, it’s the story of Superman and guest-star Superboy Jon Kent trying to help other guest-star Superboy Conner Kent figure out why no one remembers him (short of, in a beautiful scene, Ma and Pa Kent, and also Krypto). And despite Red Cloud and the Uber Parasite and the FBI raiding the Daily Planet, a lot of what’s underlying the characters' actions is Conner trying to prove himself and the rest of the Super-family getting to know him, and Bendis makes sure to tuck him away safely before the end.

But lest Bendis ignore Jon, something that’s more than once been accused, the climax of Bendis' final Action Comics issue is all about Clark spending quality time with Jon. It’s unusual, but maybe apt, because Bendis' Superman has generally been the Jon-focused book (at times) and Bendis' Action been the Lois-focused book, but in the conclusions, they switched. But given that Superman Vol. 4: Mythological was about Clark and Lois, the Action conclusion had a few other options; I might’ve cried foul too had Bendis continued with Conner all the way through, but clearly this was a writer who remembered where this story started and where it needed to end.

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Among comics' forever unanswerable questions is whether a run ended as its writer intended, if any writer ever gets the room to do everything they wanted to do. I would say — hardly for the first time for a run — Bendis' Invisible Mafia story started better than it ended. For what seemed at one point a real detailed look at the power behind the power in Metropolis' underworld, that it basically comes down to Leone and Robinson “Red Cloud” Goode unleashing an “Uber Parasite” on the Super-family while Leone beats feet out of Metropolis (and our earthly dimension!) felt anticlimactic, not to mention no real examination of where Superman let his guard down or how he might prevent an “invisible mafia” from springing up again. And poor Agent Chase and the FBI come off ridiculous here, essentially letting Leone escape when she points across the room, says “Look at Lois Lane!” and then runs out the door.

What a twist, however, that Leone is from Earth 3! As I’ve mentioned before, I think Bendis was trying to (or is still trying to?) do something with the famously bad-is-good Earth 3, given that it’s shown up in his Superman, Young Justice, and now the startling revelation of his Action Comics conclusion. I am sure I’m reading too much into it, but given the end of this book just before “Future State” and the fallout from Dark Nights: Death Metal, “House of Kent” feels like it’s hinting at elements from that book, what with Conner trying to figure out his place in the multiverse and Leone hailing from another Earth, not to mention Leone accusing Lois of herself coming from another Earth and this concept not seeming so foreign that the FBI doesn’t take Lois into custody about it.

In my review of Action Comics Vol. 4: Metropolis Burning, I commented on the nice scene in which Clark reveals his secret to friend, fire chief, and mayoral candidate Melody Moore a day earlier than he does to the rest of the world. Melody was an interesting addition to the cast around the time Superman was being accused of mysterious arsons, though she wasn’t involved in many storylines after and it felt like Bendis forgot about her, which is why the Burning scene was good.

But Melody gets no more than a page here before she’s killed off by Red Cloud just to hurt Superman. So, after more than two years worth of stories, and debuting even in Bendis' Man of Steel miniseries, the whole point of Melody Moore (female, mind you) is to die so that Superman can feel badly about it — badly enough to sob about it in the third chapter, though not badly enough that Melody gets more than a passing reference in the rest of the story. That feels like sloppy writing, of the kind one would think Bendis would know better.

Artist John Romita is in the difficult position of drawing five or more flying characters on a page throughout this story, when flying characters are not his forte, all stiff-armed and bent awkwardly at the waist. Still, I continue to love the energetic gusto that Romita pours on to every page, and for every fight scene drawn like the characters are going to get targeting calls, there’s some beautiful back and forth conversation at the Daily Planet or in the hallways of the FBI that give Romita a true chance to shine.

2.75

Rating

Superman: Action Comics Vol. 5: The House of Kent is the controversial end to a long story (not, y’know, Rebirth Flash long, but long). I’m not sure the Invisible Mafia storyline quite wraps up well (nor at what point here, or was it in a previous volume, that Leone decided to cut loose Red Cloud?), nor does Brian Michael Bendis acquit himself well with his own creation Melody Moore. But over the course of it all, Bendis actually convinced me that Superman revealing his secret identity was a good idea, something I never thought I’d go for, and when I see this book’s stellar Gary Frank variant cover of Superman, Supergirl, Superboy Jon Kent, and Superboy Conner Kent all together, that’s a wonderful thing I’ve got to credit Bendis with, too. Sorry this run didn’t go on longer; can’t help wonder how it might’ve been different.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketch]

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8 comments:

  1. You are probably one of the few oroollke who actually liked Bendis writing Superman.

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  2. More people liked Bendis on Superman then didn't. He was the best Superman writer in 25+ years. It is just with the internet , the loudest voices are heard more then the sane ones.

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  3. And I do think Bendis will continue some of these threads in his upcoming DC titles

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  4. Great review. I also really enjoyed Bendis' run on Superman and thought he brought much needed energy and creativity to the stories he was telling. I think that he had to cut his long term story short due to Future State and Infinite Frontier.....but I really enjoyed his run....especially in the beginning. At first, I didn't like the fact the he aged up Jon, but that opened up stories with the Legion of Superheroes and you can't fault Bendis for trying to add more layers to the characters. One thing I will agree with is that Bendis simply couldn't deliver completely on the potential at the beginning of his run....not sure if that was editor interference or just Bendis' story getting away from his roadmap. Leviathan was a mess....and that could have been really good....all in all though, I do think that Bendis has one of the better runs of the last decade. Plus with artists like Ivan Reis and John Romita Jr....how can you go wrong?

    One final point, I think that Bendis story was weakened due to constraints put on him by what was happening over in Doomsday Clock at the same time as he was writing his Superman books.

    Plus......the whole secret identity reveal will probably be retconned with the next crisis that restores the status quo.....though I hope it isn't. All in all though, I will reread the complete run once I get this paperback...and will probably enjoy it again!

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    1. Recognizing that aging up Jon was controversial, I appreciated that Bendis didn't age him up and forget him, but rather kept including Jon in the book, especially for the final sequence.

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  5. Great review! I enjoyed as well. It felt like a fitting wrap up to his run (while leaving some stuff there that he seems to be continuing a bit on Justice League) as it tied most of his series (Superman, Action Comics, Legion, Young Justice) together, through characters at least, if not through story.

    My major gripe on it was also the Melody Moore character. It just seemed odd that the arc of the character (including her telling Supes she was going to run for mayor recently which would have been more interesting) was for her to die and cause Superman to grieve for her. Just seems like an odd choice and I'd be curious what the original intent for the character was OR if that was the original intent.

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    1. Glad to hear some of the threads are continuing to Justice League! Looking forward to reading that ... next May. 😢

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    2. Yes....such a long wait.....wish DC would release the collected editions faster.

      By the way, I just got my copy of The House of Kent.....the scenes with Conner were great (especially with Ma and Pa Kent....who due to various goings on with Doomsday Clock....were in a are they alive or aren't they status).

      I found the whole death of Melody Moore unnecessary and abrupt. Plus Clark's reaction didn't resonate because Bendis really failed to build up Melody's character enough for us to get emotionally invested.

      Reading this, you could tell that Bendis was rushing to tie up all the loose ends......and it was an ok ending. I'm still going to reread the whole storyline now....but expect that I will still rank Bendis' positive accomplishments with Superman outweighing any negatives.

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